Part One: Back to Sea

With the silencing of the two Radio Caroline ships in March 1968, most people accepted that this was the end for the station. Others did not give up. Various abortive attempts were made to restart Caroline but, because the two original ships were still the subject of ownership disputes, it was not possible to use them and there were difficulties in obtaining a substitute vessel. A come-back was nearly achieved at Easter 1968 with the old Radio 270 ship, the mv Oceaan 7, but this attempt was foiled by the British authorities when the story leaked to the press. It came to nothing.
Ronan O'Rahilly, Caroline's founder and driving force, had ambitious plans for a Caroline television station. This was to broadcast from two Super Constellation aircraft taking it in turns to circle above the North Sea. Unfortunately when he announced his scheme, the official outcry was so overwhelming that backers and potential advertisers were scared off. He was forced to abandon the idea. Instead he got involved in other areas away from broadcasting. He had already been involved in the production of one film, Girl On A Motorcycle (retitled Naked Under Leather in the USA), which starred the French actor Alain Delon and British singer Marianne Faithfull. Now he began work on a second, Universal Soldier, starring George Lazenby.
The name Radio Caroline was briefly resurrected in 1970 when Radio Northsea International changed its name in an attempt to win greater popular support during the general election campaign of June that year. Soon after that Ronan was involved with a rock festival, Phun City, which took place near Worthing, Sussex. He later managed one of the headline acts from the festival, American rock band The MC5.

press advert for Gold

Press advert for ‘Gold’.

On 29th May 1972, following the death of one of the owners of the Wijsmuller Tug and Salvage company and a court decision over their ownership, the two former Radio Caroline ships were put up for sale by auction. Both were in an appalling state of disrepair, having been left to rot and ransacked by souvenir hunters. The Fredericia, the former north ship was sold to a ship-breaker for some £3,150. He also paid about £2,400 for the smaller Mi Amigo, the old Caroline South. The Fredericia was broken up for scrap but the Mi Amigo was to change hands again. An offshore radio fan and former employee of both Wijsmuller and Radio Northsea International, Gerard van Dam, had learnt of the sale of the two ships. He contacted Ronan O'Rahilly. By this time the Irish entrepreneur was more interested in his movie projects, especially his latest film Gold. However, if Caroline could be brought back for just a few thousand pounds, it could be a good way of promoting the film. He was persuaded and, after a certain amount of hunting around, sufficient money was raised to buy the Mi Amigo from the ship-breaker.

visit the Mi Amigo

Flyer advertising visits to the Mi Amigo. Click to enlarge.

During the summer of 1972 advertisements were circulated, announcing that the ship was in the hands of Mr. P Hofman, a shipping agent, and together with the Free Radio Campaign of Holland it was being refitted as a ‘Disc Hotel and Pirate Museum’. According to the hand-out, the ship was open to the public for from 5 guilders for a short visit to 250 guilders for a seven day stay, including meals, accommodation and the use of the studio under “guidance from a well-known DJ”. (One of the people who visited the ship was correspondent Fred Kooreman. His photos and memories are here. See also Rob Olthof's photos.) Those people who made the pilgrimage to the ship found very little operational, although work was continuing. Some were suspicious that there was more to the activity on the Mi Amigo than was at first apparent. They were right. The incredible was happening. Radio Caroline was preparing to return to the air.

press cutting

The first issue of ‘Dee Jay & Radio Monthly’ had some late-breaking news.

In early September 1972, the Mi Amigo was moved. The authorities were told that she was being taken to the United Kingdom where her appeal as a tourist attraction would be greater. Instead, at dawn on 3rd September 1972, she dropped anchor off the coast of Scheveningen, just a few hundred yards from Radio Northsea's Mebo II. This concerned the Mebo's owners who thought she was too close for safety so they moved their ship a couple of miles further away. Meanwhile work continued on the Mi Amigo for the return to the air. Ronan O'Rahilly visited the Mebo II and, in an impassioned, speech persuaded DJ/engineer Spangles Muldoon to join him. RNI transmitter engineer Peter Chicago was already aware of the new venture and was keen to get involved. That night Spangles announced his resignation from RNI over the air and hinted at the impending return of Caroline.

Gerard van Dam

Gerard van Dam, taking the Mi Amigo back out to sea. Photo from the Radio Caroline Picture Souvenir Book, published by MRP Books.

Although she was at sea again, the Mi Amigo was a virtual wreck. Spangles persuaded former Radio Essex fort captain and technical wizard Dick Palmer to leave his garage business to help out with renovating the ship's generators and engines. He managed to get them working again and the refitting continued. Late on 29th September the first anonymous test transmissions were broadcast on 1187 kHz, 252.7 metres. These were at a power of about 6 or 7 kilowatts as the station was still awaiting spare parts from America for the big 50 kilowatt transmitter. Earlier that day DJ Crispian St.John had arrived aboard. He was joined on the 30th by another familiar offshore personality, Andy Archer, as the tests continued.
Correspondent Ian Godfrey remembers: “In almost three months, the test dates could easily be counted on both hands! After that momentous 29/30th September test there was nothing for a whole month. Then I felt sure that normal programming would start in a couple of days but, within 24 hours, 1187kHz was dead again! I logged the next series of tests from 8th-10th November when around 8pm that evening, during a track by Led Zeppelin, the signal rapidly started fading and within about a minute it had disappeared beneath Radio Budapest. They must have had a generator failure.”
The plan was to operate two parallel services: Radio 199, in Dutch, would be on 1520 kHz (197 metres) while Radio Caroline, broadcasting in English, would use 1187 kHz. However in the early hours of 13th November Holland was struck by the worst storm for fifty years. The Mi Amigo was thrown adrift as her anchor chain parted under the strain of a force 11 wind and, to make matters worse, the aerial mast snapped. It came crashing down - a total write-off. The crew dropped a couple of emergency anchors and the ship was saved, but now there was no antenna. A new anchor was fitted the following week but the station remained silent.

click to hear audio Mike Ross and Don Allen talking about the storm on Radio Northsea International, 13th November 1972. Don mentions that the Mi Amigo has lost her mast. Recording posted by Vincent on the Internet Radiocafé, now known as the Radiotrefpunt (radio meeting point) forum. Our thanks to him (duration 2 minutes 14 seconds)

Part two over the page.

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